Expert views on responding to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies of the Big Food's Industry: public relations or public good

Big Food's use of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies has raised concerns among public health advocates, particularly community-focused strategies that mainly involve philanthropic donations, which are publicised across various media platforms to the public. A systematic approach to counteracting companies' CSR strategies is yet to be established. Building upon an existing framework that identified the types of CSR strategies currently being implemented in Australia, this study used qualitative methods to gain insights into how experts believe the public health community should respond to the potentially negative impact of Big Food’s CSR strategies. One to one interviews were undertaken with n=30 national and international advocates, both in academic and non-academic roles, with expertise in nutrition and obesity policy, either in person, via the telephone, or via Skype. Initial analysis highlights three points at which experts believed CSR could be addressed, including: government, civil society, and community levels. Potential strategies suggested ranged from lobbying for required standardised reporting measures that allow for greater transparency, to philanthropic donations being redistributed via a non-conflicted third party organisation. This study provides initial steps forward on how experts might advocate on behalf of consumers to minimise the negative impacts CSR strategies may create. However, it also acknowledges that whilst it is a concern, CSR is one many strategies among Big Food’s tool box of tactics aiming to influence public policy, which need to be addressed as a whole, both strategically and comprehensively.

Zoe Richards

School of Health and Society, Faculty of Social Scienes, University of Wollongong

I'm currently in the process of finishing my doctoral thesis at the University of Wollongong. My PhD investigates Big Food's use of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies, bringing together perspectives from industry, consumers in the community, and public health experts. Alongside my studies, I'm also co-leading the Wollongong chapter of the Youth Food Movement (YFM). YFM is a national volunteer-led organisation that aims to build the skills, knowledge and experience that young people have with food, and then empower them to take these skills out into the world to create a sustainable food system.

My poster session is on Thursday the 6th of April, from 12:30-1:30 pm. If you wish to speak more about my research, I will be happy to discuss it then.